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Gretta: College educator

Background

Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1FuJWya
(CC BY 2.0)
The person represented here is not affiliated with DataONE and use of their image does not reflect endorsement of DataONE services.

Name, age, and education: 

Gretta received her PhD from University of Wisconsin Madison in Zoology six years ago at the age of 29. She did her dissertation fieldwork on the Mosquito Coast of Honduras studying physiological and population ecology of bats. Her research linked individual bioenergetics to landscape level meta-population genetics.

At Wisconsin, Gretta was a Teaching Assistant for general biology lectures and labs, and taught several different sections of a variety of elective courses but she did not specifically study or receive more than minimal training in teaching or education. However, during a postdoc at the La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica she interacted with a group of undergraduates doing a field study. This positive experience led her to consider a career with a greater focus on teaching than she had previously been considering.

As a result, Gretta accepted a position at Kendall College in the Cuyahoga Valley of Ohio, and has been teaching in the Biology department for four years. She also has an appointment in a new interdisciplinary Environmental Studies program. Kendall College is a primarily undergraduate institution located in a distant suburb of Cleveland. Named after its first benefactor, Kendall College occupies approximately ¼ of a large forested preserve, with a pond, stream, unsurveyed caves and karst features. It was well out in the country when it was founded, but in the intervening decades, the suburbs have grown to the edges of campus.

Kendall College enrolls approximately 2000 undergraduates plus about 800 students in MS programs in teaching, nursing and allied health fields (but there is no master’s degree in biology). Approximately 50% of students come from within 50 miles of the school, so support from the community is important. The biology department has about 15 faculty; it is large compared to other departments because of the number of service courses offered and the large number of pre-med biology majors.

Life or career goals, fears, hopes, and attitudes: 

Gretta’s main concern at the moment is to get tenure. The reward system at Kendall College is heavily based on teaching, with research as necessary but secondary. Gretta’s first year of teaching was disastrous—she didn’t fully appreciate how different the students and their needs were from those she had encountered when she was a TA. But through hard work, she has overcome this rocky start and now receives excellent teaching evaluations. She has also stayed active in her research, so tenure should be no problem. Nevertheless, she is not confident that she fully understands the politics of her department and the college. She feels a need to be careful about her relationship with her colleagues, particularly with senior faculty who do cellular and molecular biology and who do not always appreciate her ecological interests.

Gretta also wants to make a difference in her students’ lives, which is why she came to Kendall instead of going to a more research-focused university. She particularly wants to help students learn to think more systematically about the ecosystem and the ways it may be changing. She thinks that fieldwork is very helpful way to engage students and to get them to think more broadly, but her time for field research pursuits is limited and many of her students, even biology majors, are focused on a health career rather than the environment.

A day in the life: 

Gretta teaches 3 courses a semester, a mix of service courses for professional health and science education students as well as courses for majors. She teaches the ecology and evolution sections of the introduction to biology course, where she faces the problem of keeping the interest of pre-med students who do not see the relevance of ecology to their careers. For biology majors, she teaches mammalogy, where she faces the same problem. Ironically, she gets the most satisfaction teaching non-major electives, such as animal diversity and issues in conservation. A small but growing number of students are interested in conservation biology and the new environmental science program. The growth of this program is welcomed by mostly newer younger faculty but seen as a potential threat to the department by older more-established faculty. Teaching occupies about sixty percent of her time with a significant part of the rest of her time being committed to administrative matters, leaving little time for research.

Nevertheless, for her research, Gretta remains concerned about the physiological and population ecology of bats, especially with regards to invasive species, white nose bat syndrome, and the impact of sprawl from Cleveland. As she has only a token amount of funding from the college to support her research, she takes advantage of the campus preserve and nearby areas for research sites. In the summer, she actively involves undergraduates in collecting data about bat habitat and occurrence. They also collect some specimens (e.g., scat, prey insects, adult and larvae, diseased bat corpses). She can collect enough data during the summer to keep busy with analysis and writing during the rest of the year, with a few periodic visits to local sites for on-going monitoring. Her work provides many opportunities for student involvement in both data collection and analysis, though this occasionally puts her in competition with other faculty for good students.

Gretta would like to get students involved in surveying the campus preserve, e.g., doing something like the All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory (ATBI), and comparing these results to other areas along the corridor to Cleveland. As a step in this direction, Gretta partnered with an Education faculty member on an experiential science education summer course series that brings college students, inner-city high school students and college faculty together to examine bat habitat use on the preserve and along the corridor. This course also provides her with much-needed summer salary and some infrastructure for managing students. Officially such collaborative activities are encouraged, but she is aware that some of her senior colleagues do not think the work is real science. She is also beginning to realize that a greater volume of data collected will require more work to manage and is not sure she and her students are adequately prepared for that.

Because of her interest in invasive insects, Gretta was recently named to the county’s Climate Change Adaptation Planning Committee as an expert in the impacts of climate change on the area’s ecology. The college greatly values this kind of community engagement and she was initially flattered to have been invited ahead of her more senior colleagues and hopes that the data she has collected will be useful. However, she is concerned about the time required and the potential for political missteps that might affect the college and her career. For example, the local community is concerned about the potential impacts of the West Nile virus and has been spraying insecticide to control mosquitoes but Gretta is worried about the impact of spraying on the wildlife in the college’s preserve and in the habitat corridor between Cleveland and the college.

Reasons for using DataONE to share and to reuse data
Needs and expectations of DataONE tools: 

Gretta wants data to inform her own research, e.g., on similar populations and regions or complementary data on the area she studies. She wants to stay involved with zoology community by contributing her findings. She hopes to find relevant data to inform discussions of the County Planning Committee, but feels that digested data would be more useful for them.

After initially learning about DataONE as a place to look for data, she found the educational materials on the DataONE website and is interested in using DataONE data for class exercises. For example, the ecology course could be enhanced by having students look at data on habitats and species distributions. It would certainly help to have well-designed class modules: she has developed a lot of her own materials, but it’s hard to make time for such innovations given the other demands of her busy day.

Gretta is currently thinking of redesigning her research to collect data more systematically across a wider area and over time, rather than her current approach of addressing a project at a time. This approach would require more effort but would produce a longitudinal dataset that she could contribute to a DataONE member node. However, her senior colleagues have made it clear that a dataset does not count as a publication. Before she can devote effort to the redesign and increased data collection, she will need some assurance that she and her students will receive appropriate credit for the work, at least a publication about the data and ideally joint authorship on papers that use her data.

Intellectual and physical skills that can be applied: 

Gretta’s graduate and postdoc work included training in data collection and analysis, but not in data management more generally. She is skilled with general data collection approaches but mostly relies on Excel to store her data. She also relies on students to do much of her data entry and Excel works well for that purpose.

Technical support available: 

Kendall College has an IT staff that can handle routine issues and Gretta is provided with a PC and routine software. However, she does not have further support with the technology. She has a colleague in the department who helps her with statistical analyses.

Personal biases about data sharing and reuse (and data management more generally): 

Gretta observed the value of shared data in her graduate education and postdoc work. She appreciates the ability to access others’ data and would like the opportunity to reciprocate, but is not sure that she can justify the time and energy it would take or that it would be rewarded.

Researcher Support
Project Planning: 
  • Professional development and training: Access online tutorial datasets and visualizations for lesson planning.
  • Data evaluation, analysis and visualization: Get help setting up longitudinal study along a habitat continuum. See example workflows. Use workflow tools. Create a data management plan.
Project Activity: 
  • Data discovery, access, use and dissemination: Engage students in data exploration and visualization.Use the class data and integrated datasets as the basis for publications with undergraduates.
  • Data interoperability, standards and integration: Contribute data from Ohio so that it can be integrated with other studies.
  • Data evaluation, analysis and visualization: Create species distribution graphics and simulations of species movements through time to help students realize their seemingly small efforts in a summer or semester course do have larger impacts and context.
Publication and Data Preservation: 

Data deposition/acquisition/ingest: Upload research and class research data for preservation and reciprocation.

Source: 

Kevin Crowston and Miriam Davis, with input from Bruce Grant and Gretchen LeBuhn